Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Handyman pleads guilty, gets life sentence in murder of actor Jeff Norton

LARGO — Handyman Thomas J. Lafoe, on trial for the murder of community actor Jeff Norton, changed his plea to guilty Friday and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Norton, who acted in theaters around the Tampa Bay area and managed the theater facility at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, was found dead in his house two years ago, with his head bashed in.

The Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner said distinctive wounds on Norton's skull could have matched the handle of a fencing sword he kept in his house for use in mock stage combat.

Lafoe, 59, sometimes mowed the lawn of Norton's St. Petersburg home and was caught on store cameras buying goods with Norton's credit card the day before the body was discovered.

He also confessed to the murder, police said.

Prosecutors put on evidence for two days and the trial was set to resume Friday morning with the defense side of the case. Then Lafoe came into the courtroom and admitted his guilt.

According to testimony, Lafoe gave various accounts of what happened that night, assistant state attorney William Loughery said. In interviews with detectives, Lafoe said a crack cocaine dealer wanted to rob Norton and ordered Lafoe at gunpoint to bludgeon the actor.

A jail inmate testified that Lafoe said the killing occurred after he and Norton argued over drugs. On Friday, Lafoe again said a drug dealer was present and things got out of control.

Lafoe said he was a life-long cocaine user. An autopsy showed that Norton had cocaine in his system when he died.

Norton, 55, was widely admired in the theater community, which set up local acting awards in his honor.

He volunteered for nonprofit programs that used acting to help young people with troubled pasts.

Norton's friends filled half the courtroom seats in symbolic support for their deceased friend.

Norton was "a very, very wonderful, kind-hearted man. His spirit is still with us today,'' said his cousin, Sarasota resident Tommy Pettiti. "He would not have wanted (Lafoe) to get the death penalty. He wouldn't have wanted to see anyone killed. He was not a violent man.''

Handyman pleads guilty, gets life sentence in murder of actor Jeff Norton 06/15/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 9:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Who's behind the mysterious butt graffiti all over St. Petersburg?

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first butts, perhaps, appeared in April on some steps behind the Sundial shopping plaza.

    A photo of the butt graffiti that has been cropping up around St. Petersburg in the past several months. [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | STAFF]
  2. During the most expensive mayoral election ever, St. Petersburg City Council wants to limit PAC money


    ST. PETERSBURG — In front of a large group of red-shirted campaign finance reform supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday started the ball rolling on an ordinance that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

    A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections
  3. Minority business accelerator launch by Tampa chamber to aid black, Hispanic businesses


    A "minority business accelerator" program was launched Thursday by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce geared toward helping black and Hispanic business owners identify and overcome barriers to grow their companies. The accelerator, known as MBA, will provide participants with business tools to cultivate opportunities …

    Bemetra Simmons is a senior private banker at Wells Fargo, The Private Bank. She is also chair of the new minority business accelerator program for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. [Photo, LinkedIn]
  4. Peter Budaj loves 'vibe' with Lightning


    Two years ago, nobody was willing to give Peter Budaj a shot, the veteran goalie wondering if he'd ever play in the NHL again.

    Peter Budaj signed a two-year extension with the Lightning, worth $1.025 million per year.
  5. A test the Rays haven't passed

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — I have no idea what to think about the Rays. Not a clue.

    Tampa Bay Rays players celebrate their 8-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.